Author and artist Shea Serrano has spent a lot of time with a pen and a pad, just thinking about rap. His book, The Rap Yearbook: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed, comes out today and its tight subhed explains its premise really well. Serrano—and some heavy hitter friends—have spent loads of time creating a comprehensive hip-hop anthology by figuring out what the genre's best song is for every year of its existence, starting in 1979. The FADER was given the chance to premiere a chapter from the book and what follows is the complete "1990" chapter about A Tribe Called Quest's "Bonita Applebum."
“Bonita Applebum” is the best rap love song that’s ever been. It’s also the first one that stepped away from the loverman style, and it did it without trying, and that’s the only way that this sort of monumental change happens. Here are a dozen other rap love songs that are very good but not the best:
• “I Need Love,” LL Cool J (1987): This wasn’t the first rap love song, but it was the first one where the protagonist was actively trying to be cool, which felt cosmic at the time.
• “Passin’ Me By,” The Pharcyde (1993): This is a straight-line descendant of “Bonita Applebum,” though it replaces Q-Tip’s charismatic begging with self-deprecating measures (“Damn, I wish I wasn’t such a wimp”). Each time one of the guys is rapping in the video he’s shown hanging upside down, and that’s (probably) supposed to be the literal version of the phrase “head over heels in love,” because rappers from the late ’80s and early ’90s really loved hats and they also really loved being literal.